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Start-ups Try to Capture Road Traffic's Excess Energy

Stopping or slowing traffic powers piezoelectric and mechanical systems

3 min read

12 October 2010—Visitors to aerospace engineer Haim Abramovich’s office at the Israel Institute of Technology, in Haifa, once asked if they could run a freight train over his latest invention. Abramovich didn’t blink: The visitors were from Israel’s National Road Company, and they wanted to know whether his piezoelectric material—which he developed to warp aerodynamic surfaces at the command of an electric current—would instead generate power if embedded beneath rumbling roads and rails.

Abramovich, who had just launched start-up Innowattech to develop wearable microgenerators for powering mobile devices, was convinced the road and track were better homes for his technology. So the company "turned around 180 degrees," he recalls, and figured out how to embed piezoelectric material beneath a road. Now, along with several other inventive start-ups, Innowattech is poised to harvest some of the spare kinetic energy of the world’s moving vehicles—call it the kinetic surplus.

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Chinese Joint Venture Will Begin Mass-Producing an Autonomous Electric Car

With the Robo-01, Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely aim for a fully self-driving car

4 min read
A black car sits against a white backdrop decorated with Chinese writing. The car’s doors are open, like a butterfly’s wings. Two charging stations are on the car’s left; two men stand on the right.

The Robo-01 autonomous electric car shows off its butterfly doors at a reveal to the media in Beijing, in June 2022.

Tingshu Wang/Reuters/Alamy

In October, a startup called Jidu Automotive, backed by Chinese AI giant Baidu and Chinese carmaker Geely, officially released an autonomous electric car, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition. In 2023, the car will go on sale.

At roughly US $55,000, the Robo-01 Lunar Edition is a limited edition, cobranded with China’s Lunar Exploration Project. It has two lidars, a 5-millimeter-range radar, 12 ultrasonic sensors, and 12 high-definition cameras. It is the first vehicle to offer on-board, AI-assisted voice recognition, with voice response speeds within 700 milliseconds, thanks to the Qualcomm Snapdragon 8295 chip.

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